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Jerusalema review

Posted in movies,reviews by YTAH on September 1, 2008
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Gone are the days when local [i.e. South African] movies had to be treated like the special-needs child at the grown-ups’ table. This has something to do with high-profile “souf-êfrican” successes like “onse ‘Monster’ Charlize” and Tsotsi, but also with a growing confidence in the local industry, which has seen a greater willingness to experiment. Local filmmakers’ exposure to higher standards and new ideas, through the influx of international productions to our shores hasn’t much hurt, either.

So it’s encouraging to see this trend continue with Jerusalema, the latest locally-produced film to hit our shores. And the film opens with a bang, or at least the aftermath of one. This clever bit of subterfuge makes for a welcome change from the obviousness that plagues too many local films, and promises good things from its writer/director. We follow Lucky Kunene on an intriguing journey from the grotty flat in a run-down section of Johannesburg, to his youth in Soweto and back again. And it’s a journey that takes in a great deal more of the South African experience than many previous films, from the poverty in the townships, to the affluence of the supposed suburban bliss, to the seedier parts of the city.

Also remarkable for a local film was the obvious lack of self-pity. It never portrays the characters purely as victims, and at each crucial juncture they have the option to “do the right thing”. But by that point the crime is too much fun. Rapulana Seiphemo, who plays the adult Lucky, should be familiar from SA soaps like Generations and Isidingo, and the film gives him ample opportunity what he does well: have fun playing the charismatic criminal who looks good in a suit. Jeffrey Sekele, who plays his mentor, is also particularly effective, as are the two actors (Jafta Mamabolo and Motlatsi Mahloko) who portray Lucky and his childhood makker [‘pal, friend, buddy, co-conspirator’].

The film is not without its faults. It started to drag in places and some of the performances are rather weak. I could have done without the insipid white girlfriend and her family, for one thing. The film would have been appreciably improved by scrapping these scenes, the least dynamic of the film. Balancing out this silliness, the role of the cop, Blackie Swart, is accurate enough to ring true but enough of a stereotype to remain amusing. (My favourite scene in the film features the Sowetan crimelord, the white detective, and an objection to blasphemy, which, if you’ve run into many of our law enforcement officers, will seem all too familiar.)

Most importantly, this is probably the first local film to attempt the caper genre in a local setting and with local flair. The plot is zippy, and the dialogue keeps things light, which means that the film never lets the local crime statistics or the legacy of Apartheid™ get in the way of a good yarn. Whatever you think of the government’s response to crime, or its causes, it would probably be a mistake to let your politics get in your way of enjoying a good film.

[Originally posted on my blog, on Monday, 1 September 2008.]


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